Despite the Big Ten being a giant pile of two-week old trash for more of the season, the conference still has a chance to send half its teams to the NCAA Tourney. This is partially due to the bubble, which has always been weaker since the field expanded to 68 teams, but also due to a few teams playing better in conference play after
Tier 4: Not even the CBI
The Huskers have had a weird season. First, they started off conference play with three wins, then lost five in a row before stunning Purdue in Lincoln. After three more losses, they’ve won their last two against Penn State and Ohio State. At under-.500 they’re unlikely to reach the postseason, but at least senior Tai Webster is finishing his season strong. As for Rutger, they had the opportunity to earn the S when they led Northwestern late in Evanston, but couldn’t hold on to the victory. It’s still a long uphill climb for new Rutger coach Steve Pikiell, but at least the program is trending upwards, for once.
Tier 3: NIT, at best
12. Ohio State
9. Penn State
Ohio State, Illinois, and Indiana all have a decent chance of finishing above .500, maybe winning a game or two in the conference tourney, and getting an NIT berth. But all three have bigger decisions coming up about the future of their programs. Thad Matta’s might be the safest, but this will be the second straight year without a tourney berth, and the Buckeyes haven’t gotten out of the first weekend since 2013. Matta has done a great job in his decade-plus in Columbus, but the Thad Five was 10 years ago now, and OSU fans might be getting restless. John Groce has been trending downwards during his 5 years in Champaign, and with a new AD who’s willing to make quick changes and spend (see: Lovie Smith), Groce’s days may be numbered. As for Tom Crean, we’re gonna be spending a lot of time on this website discussing his job status over the next few weeks, so stay tuned for that. Personally, I’m ready for a change myself, but there are a ton of factors to consider, all of which we’ll get into.
Penn State and Iowa are both at 14-13, so while it’s a longshot, a couple season-ending wins might get them into NIT contention as well.
Tier 2: Right on the Bubble
6. Michigan State
Michigan’s tourney hopes might have taken a hit with an overtime loss at Minnesota on Sunday night, but a huge win over Wisconsin in Ann Arbor last Thursday negates this. John Beilein may back this team into the tourney for a second straight season. And while Sparty may have lost to a Purdue team perfectly equipped to exploit their weaknesses, Tom Izzo has his team in position to get into the Dance once again, providing they don’t melt down over the next four games. Win over Wisconsin in Breslin next Sunday and they might be a lock.
Tier 1: Tourney teams
The Gophers played yet another overtime game on Sunday night, their fifth of conference play. They’re 3-2 in these games, and Minnesota has a good chance at finishing above-.500 in conference play for the first time since the 2004-05 season. Jordan Murphy has been unstoppable recently, and Nate Mason continued the streak of guards having career games against Indiana by dropping 30 on the Hoosiers last week. They could be the 8/9 seed team that no one will want to play (watch out, Gonzaga).
Northwestern has 20 wins now, and the old trivia question of the only Power 5 team to never make the tourney may finally be put to rest. Maryland needs to give Melo Trimble more help, as the junior guard accounted for 45% of the team’s scoring in a loss to Wisconsin. Speaking of the Badgers, the Maryland win was a huge confidence booster for a team that had lost two straight. And finally, Purdue plays its last three of four on the road (its final home game coming against Indiana), but if the Boilers can win at least two of the road games, they should be in prime position to clinch at least a share of the conference title. Barf.